If “The Princess Diaries” met “Parent Trap” and had a ménage à trois with a Hallmark Christmas flick, Netflix’s “The Princess Switch” series would undoubtedly be the result.
The series follows Stacey DeNovo (Vanessa Hudgens), a successful yet workaholic Chicago baker who discovers her royal doppelganger, Lady Margeret Delacourt, Queen of Montenaro, (Hudgens again: She’s not British, ignore the accent), after traveling to the fictional vaguely European country of Belgravia for a holiday baking competition. In usual “grass is always greener” fashion, the two switch places for two days and after some festive romantic montages, Margaret falls for a commoner (Nick Sagar) while Stacey marries a prince (Sam Palladio), both becoming royalty. A Christmas miracle!
Picking up where the sequel left off, the third installment, “The Princess Switch: Romancing the Star”, centers on the outrageous Fiona Pembroke, Margaret’s cousin (Hudgens, now evil and blonde) in the midst of her community service sentence after kidnapping and impersonating Stacey and Margaret. When the “Star of Peace,” a Vatican relic loaned out to Montenero is stolen, the identical non-triplets team up to steal it back. Enlisting in the help of Fiona’s security expert ex-boyfriend Peter Maxwell (Remy Hii), “Romancing the Star” flips from family film, to rom-com, to “Ocean’s Eleven” and back again, all within the 106 minutes run time. It’s kitschy, it’s cliche, it’s Christmas.
Even behind eye rolls and winces, there is an undeniable charm of this particular style of commercial Christmas popularized by the Hallmark Channel holiday machine. Even with the convoluted plot of “The Princess Switch” series, the stories are easy to follow along with their clear-cut depictions of right and wrong and guaranteed happy ending. They aren’t meant to be questioned, but instead an opportunity to turn off the brain and soak in the red and green holiday cheer. Everyone needs some sort of escape once in a while, and if that includes a faraway land of royalty and suspicious magical guides that seem to be watching at every turn, so be it.
Despite the flat picture quality as a result of the true 4K UHD sensor required for all films produced for Netflix, “Romancing a Star” is undoubtedly a fun, festive watch. In what appears to be an attempt to visually distinguish the three Vanessa Hudgens, the campy costumes clearly characterize each heroine in their own unique way: Heels adorned with 3D butterfly wings, pristine pastel princess coats and so, so many fascinators — all unfit for the freezing weather the powder-soft snow would suggest.
Hudgens, too, should be praised for the clear differences in the three characters she portrays. Her characterization is so refined, a still shot of all her roles side by side could be easily told apart based solely on her posture and expressions. Several times throughout the trilogy Hudgens is required to portray a version of herself portraying another version of herself and the suspension of disbelief required to imagine they are all different people is never broken. The voice, the stride, the poise are all unmistakable.
When the story falls flat — and it often does, following the tradition of highly saturated, confectionary holiday films — it covers itself in the warm winter coat of Christmas cheer. Not a single scene omits either a Christmas tree, poinsettias, string lights or all three. The actual plot has little to do with the holiday (a laser trap heist with a lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers-again trope could happen in any season), but the core of the film’s charm is so deeply rooted in Christmas joy that the film would be entirely different, and much worse, without it.
Is the film utterly chaotic? Yes, no doubt. There are two separate tango scenes and an absent mother subplot. Is it well written? Debatable. Yet, is it a cheesy, much-needed break at the end of the year? Indisputably. And that sense of levity is worth something, even if audiences are laughing it at — not with — the elicitor.
Contact Afton Okwu at [email protected].